Oklahoma House fails to act on personhood bill

Posted on April 27, 2012

NewsOK, April 27, 2012 by Michael McNutt

A House member shouts unsuccessfully to get the measure brought up for a hearing in the closing minutes of Thursday’s session. Meanwhile, the leader of an anti-abortion group apologizes to House Republicans for tactics used in trying to get the measure heard before Thursday’s deadline.

The so-called personhood bill failed to get a necessary hearing Thursday before the House of Representatives adjourned for the week, but its demise was anything but quiet.

The head of an anti-abortion group apologized Thursday to Republican House members for using poor judgment in threatening to keep track of those who voted against parliamentary procedures to bring Senate Bill 1433 up for a hearing. Oklahomans for Life said it would report any House member who blocks the effort as being for abortion rights.

The group’s tactic upset many House Republicans, most of whom had approved more than 30 anti-abortion measures since the GOP gained control of the House after 2004.

Thursday’s session ended in near mayhem as Rep. Mike Reynolds shouted for a couple of minutes in a last-gasp effort to get the measure brought up for a hearing. Thursday was the last day Senate-originated measures could be heard on the House floor.

Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, who was presiding in the chamber, called on House sergeants to be prepared to escort Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, out of the chamber. Order was restored before the sergeants made any move toward Reynolds, who had tried for the second straight day to suspend the rules in an attempt to bring SB 1433 up for a House vote. Hickman, R-Fairview, ruled both days that motions have to go through the majority floor.

Reynolds said Thursday night he was disappointed House leaders don’t abide by House rules.

“There are a number of us that next week intend on calling for the removal of some of those people from their positions of authority,” Reynolds said.

Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, sent a letter Thursday to House Republicans offering a sincere apology for the group’s recent efforts to get SB 1433 heard on the floor. Backers of SB 1433 say it is a statement that Oklahomans value life and that nothing in the measure would prohibit contraception or in vitro fertilization. Opponents say it could lead to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research.

Lauinger, who has worked on anti-abortion measures for 35 years at the state Capitol, wrote that his group had been disappointed when House Republicans in private polling decided last week against hearing SB 1433.“We had looked forward to SB 1433’s consideration on the House floor last week, and the change in plans was a bitter disappointment. Overheated rhetoric and errors in judgment were the results. I am very sorry,” he wrote.

Kevin Calvey, state vice chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said during a news conference Tuesday that it was extremely disconcerting for his group and others opposed to abortion who had campaigned for Republican House members to see House Republicans taking secret votes to kill SB 1433.

Hours later, a letter signed by Calvey and Lauinger was distributed to House Republicans that stated the failure of a member to advance SB 1433 in procedural moves would be regarded “as pro-abortion rights votes on that member’s record.”

House Speaker Designate T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, was so upset he fired off an email to Calvey. Shannon didn’t want to talk about his email, but a copy provided to The Oklahoman showed he wrote that Calvey “not only disrespected this institution, but you have also demonstrated an utter lack of professionalism and integrity. Your credibility has been damaged to the point that I respectfully request that you do not lobby my office, and you remove me from your correspondence list.”

Calvey, a former Republican House member, sent an email Wednesday to House members stating that the group’s position had changed, saying that “Oklahomans for Life will not be scoring procedural votes on SB 1433.”

Calvey declined to comment Thursday night on his earlier comments or on Shannon’s email. He referred all questions to Lauinger, who did not return a telephone call.

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said Oklahomans for Life went too far in their efforts to persuade House Republicans, who have a 66-32 majority, to take up SB 1433.

“The tactic that was taken originally with the threat or at least the decision to base procedural votes as policy goes was too far,” Steele said. “Procedural votes are intended to maintain order and to protect our organizational structure. They’re much different than actual policy votes, and I think they should be treated as such.”

Martha Skeeters, president of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, said Thursday that she was glad the House failed to act on SB 1433. Dozens of members of the group, wearing pink T-shirts, sat through the House sessions Tuesday through Thursday to see if House members would take up the measure.

“People were outraged about this bill and worried about this bill because of the potential consequences,” she said.

Posted in: Oklahoma